The two key elements for us to successfully address our infrastructure challenges are asset management and innovation. We need municipal financial planning and we need immediate financial supports from upper levels; but even when money is not a concern, we need to approach this properly. As professionals, we want to commit the “right funds to the right project at the right time,” as they say. And we want to do so using the best and most practical technologies available.
The new federal budget seems to share these same elements, identifying asset management and Canadian innovation as major goals. Those of us in the water utility sector are anxious to see how these funds will roll out and how the process will work.
The funds are there. We see a commitment to $20 billion for green infrastructure, including the Canadian Water and Wastewater Fund. In reality this is an even greater investment as federal contributions are matched by provincial and local governments.
A total of $50 million has been allocated directly for community capacity-building to support the use of asset management best practices. This is critical support for small and medium-sized municipalities in need of adaptable templates and affordable solutions. We are excited to work with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) and other municipal associations on how this program might roll out.
This federal budget is clearly about more than just passing down infrastructure funding. The government has set targets for addressing climate change and for stimulating the Canadian economy, and this funding is a way to move us toward those targets. To achieve local goals, you must also show how you are contributing to these national goals. There is renewed support for the FCM’s Green Municipal Fund ($125 million) and another fund ($75 million) specifically for municipal projects addressing climate change. Most exciting is the commitment to innovation and advancing the Canadian innovative economy.
How can the government encourage municipalities to consider new innovation and select alternate solutions? The advancement of Canadian innovation won’t happen on its own. There will need to be systematic changes to lead communities down this road. The consideration of innovation will need to be a requisite for any application for federal funding. This might start with a review of all grant applications by the Ministry of Innovation, Science and Economic Development to refer this to Canadian firms; demanding that the local procurement process be forcibly opened to accept innovative bids. For many years, pre-selection of the same old technology has excluded Canadian innovators from even getting a foot in the door.
We are seeing many more municipalities using output-based procurement—defining the end product or solution and accepting any technology that can meet provincial and federal requirements. This may need to be a requisite of the grant application.
If our industry truly embraces this openness to innovation, I know we will be pleasantly surprised with the solutions that are proposed.